Innovative counseling program available for free to families through Riverside’s Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health.

Calling all caregivers with a family member living with Alzheimer’s or other memory loss diseases. The Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health (CEALH), in partnership with the University of Virginia and the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, is pleased to announce the expansion of its F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. program into the Middle Peninsula (Gloucester and Mathews Counties) and Northern Neck (White Stone, Urbanna, Kilmarnock, Irvington, Tappahannock).

Thanks to a federally funded grant, F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. – short for Family Access to Memory Impairment and Loss Information, Engagement and Support – provides counseling and support for caregivers at no cost over several months. In some areas, telehealth opportunities are available.

“The goal is to help bring entire families together in big and small ways to help the primary caregiver in caring for a family member with dementia,” said Dr. Christine Jensen, CEALH’s Director of Health Services Research. “Compassionate, trained counselors assess the individual situation, help with understanding of memory loss and how it may progress, develop an individualized care program for the family and discuss coping strategies for stress and changes in personality or behaviors.”

Through this New York University-Caregiver Intervention program, caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease or other types of memory loss receive six free counseling sessions, and one follow up, with trained counselors to help reduce stress and depression, increasing family support, enhancing knowledge for managing memory disorders, and providing assistance with finding local services and resources. “The F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. program is the longest running intervention to support dementia related caregivers out there,” Jensen said. “Caregivers and their families are getting free confidential sessions with counselors who are certified in the very specific type of care. Not just for the caregiver, but for the entire family and team.” This presentation of the program is the first time this innovative program has been offered in Virginia. And it’s vastly needed.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of people 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2015 was 130,000. That’s expected to jump to 190,000 by 2025. Among those adults 45 and older, 11 percent, or one in every nine, are currently experiencing memory loss or confusion. There are more than 450,000 caregivers in the Commonwealth alone providing this unpaid care to these individuals, according to the Association.

The impact of the program is so great that PBS even recently visited CEALH in Williamsburg to film a portion of an upcoming documentary featuring the program and highlight its impact on families.

F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. “gave me the opportunity to discuss ‘feelings’ about my situation that I would not normally do,” one participant reported. “It made me understand that I was not in this thing alone,” another said.

Additional benefits of the program include assistance in finding local services and resources and access to respite care during counseling sessions. “As the sessions went on, I was able to mobilize resources for me that I wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for the counselor – from support groups to financial planning to just figuring out what the issues were,” one program participant said. “She really helped guide me.”

Similar programs, Jensen added, have been shown to delay the need for nursing home care. “We’ve had folks, primary caregivers, who weren’t quite sure how to tell other family members they needed help,” Jensen said.

“They didn’t know how to divide the load of responsibilities. Bringing families together in this guided support with a counselor who is skilled helps folks realize they are not alone.”

To determine if you are eligible for this program or to learn more, call Riverside Senior Care Navigation toll free at 888-597-0828 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Published: February 3, 2017